When we decided to put Barack Obama on our cover early last year, he was trailing well behind Hillary Clinton in the polls. We were cautioned by magazine insiders about the risk, but by the time our article was finished and hit newsstands, Obama had triumphed on Super Tuesday and was the front-runner.
We had no secret, high-tech voter database to clue us in. Instead, we focused on some long-term trends, underscoring the changing demographics of our population. How would an emerging generation react to the "products" — presidential candidates — put before them? How will the America of tomorrow look different from the America of today? Who was best positioned to tap into that evolving market, and why?
A year later, these questions are more important than ever — not simply in political calculations, but for all businesses struggling to plan ahead in a tumultuous and erratic economy. Which is one reason we chose to profile snowboard/skateboard icon Shaun White in this issue's cover story ("Shaun White Lifts Off"). No, we're not predicting he'll become president one day. But White offers a window into what succeeds with an entirely new class of consumers: the young. As HP, Target, and others have discovered, White has sophisticated marketing instincts — and an intuitive grasp of what will sell, and why, to this coveted group.
Our list of "The Most Influential Women in Technology," similarly highlights dramatic demographic changes — in this case, in our business leadership ranks. Here, too, there are profound transformations under way. And forward-thinking executives need to update their outlook accordingly.
This month marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, and this year the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species. Here, you'll find a sampling of expert opinion about how Darwin's ideas still affect our world. A quote from Darwin, cited by one expert, is particularly instructive given today's business climate: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change."
When the skies are cloudy, it can be hard to glimpse the horizon. When the rain is falling, we tend to look just one step ahead. Our goal at Fast Company is to get you to pick your head up, at least periodically, and consider what happens when the sun comes out again. Sure footing is required in these conditions, but we also need to think clearly about where we're trying to go.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.